YEAR OF THE FLOOD
By Margaret Atwood
McClelland & Stewart
448 pp., $32.99
Review by Rachel Krueger
Margaret Atwood is at her haranguing best when she’s whipping up appalling futures for us all. She’s had several career missteps when her agenda has written cheques that her skills can’t cash, but The Year of the Flood recovers her dormant core of brilliance that we all know and love (and secretly fear).
As usual with La Atwood (and apocalyptic lit in general, I suppose) you’ll begin this book confused re: why everyone is dead. The Waterless Flood (see: title) has just swept through the earth and killed everyone except those who were accidentally secreted away somewhere. How Toby, the wiry old Gardeneress, and Ren, a nimble young sex-worker, missed out on the plague and how mankind ended up in a wretched soup of its own making make up most of the novel.
And this is no new soup. The freakiest thing about Dystopia-Wood may be that she isn’t all NEW MONSTERS! but rather THINGS CURRENTLY EXISTING MADE BELIEVABLY TERRIFYING! – like gene splicing and vitamin supplements – which makes TYotF both plausible and freaky shit. And if the foreboding doesn’t get you, then Toby’s lonely past, doled out in pieces, will stab you good.
If the beginning is vaguely Atwoodian, the “conclusion” reeks of her. Be forewarned, Flood doesn’t so much end as run out of pages. There will not be enough answers to satisfy you, and even though you had to plow through some 430+ pages to get here, you wouldn’t say no to an epilogue or two – which will not be forthcoming – and you will be not much less confused than when you started. This is both Atwood’s blessing and her curse, that you are so entrenched in her characters and her world that being cut off this way makes you feel bereft. But you will be used to that, because you will have read Oryx and Crake.
Or, you know, not, because it’s certainly not a prerequisite to reading Flood. While O&C reveals more of the apocalypse’s whodunit and howdidit, TYotF deals with those harbingers who saw it coming, and tried to stop it. With GARDENING and RECYCLING (I know, eye-roll, right? But you will find yourself oddly sympathetic to their efforts). It is neither a prequel nor a sequel, but more of a meanwhile-back-at-the-ranch-quel. A concurrentquel? A stand-alone, at any rate.
And somewhere along the road Miss Marg seems to have become gentler with her agenda-mongering. There’s a good bit of Environmentalistic hoodoo here, but she wears this cloak more easily than her Women’s Movement Power-Suit or her Anti-theists Robe, and it feels less like being clubbed over the head with a handful of tracts. Besides, she’s been auctioning off character names to benefit things like Clean Air and Victims of Torture, which you have to admit is rad. You couldn’t really look down your nose at her if you wanted to.
So even though reading Atwood has become like literary Russian Roulette, The Year of the Flood is one book where you won’t end up shot. Or will . . . depending on how you interpret that metaphor. Flood is great, is what I’m saying.